D-Leaguer Osiris Eldridge Has His Eye on the Prize
The Chicago native has high hopes.
by Scott Gleeson
It didn’t take long for Osiris Eldridge to realize he was far, far away from home.
But a game last spring between his Turkish team, Pinar Karsiyaka, and Apoel Nicosia in Athens, Greece was enough for the former Illinois State guard to realize just how much he missed his home city of Chicago.
The game ended with rocks and smoke bombs being thrown, forcing Eldridge and his teammates to barricade themselves in the locker room for hours before police could fight off the Cypriot thugs who were taking out their aggression on the Turkish hoops team.
“Apparently, there was some bad blood,” said Eldridge, pointing himself out on a YouTube clip protecting himself with a chair over his head. “I’m from the streets of Chicago and I’ve never seen anything as crazy as that shit. It was almost like the movie, 300, when the Persians shot arrows at the Spartans.”
After flirting with NBA teams following his senior season—participating on the Portland Trailblazers’ summer league team, Eldridge settled for a gig in Turkey that pinned him up against former NBA MVP Allen Iverson (Besiktas, Deron Williams’ lockout squad) in the Turkish Basketball League. In 2010-11, he averaged a pedestrian 9.4 points (fighting a midseason injury) in leading Pinar Karsiyaka to the quarterfinals of the EuroChallenge Cup.
“We had a good season as a team and, individually, I think I definitely learned how to play as a professional,” Eldridge said of his experience in Turkey, where he lost 20 pounds (he wasn’t a fan of the food). “But it’s tough being away from home. You miss simple things like a fricken Steak n’ Shake.”
But after a season overseas, Eldridge opted to return stateside to chase his dream of playing in the NBA. In the fall, he was drafted 12th overall in the NBA Development League Draft by the Dakota Wizards before getting traded to the Bakersfield Jam.
For Eldridge, making the decision not to play overseas was an easy one. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t cost him. He bypassed lucrative offers in Europe to earn a measly salary in the NBDL.
“It’s not that bad of a deal,” said Eldridge, who posted a Twitpic of Dollar General, tabbing it the official store of the D-League. “I’m not even making close to half of what I did in Turkey, but sometimes, it’s not about the money.”
At Illinois State, Eldridge was the Redbirds’ most lethal weapon for four years, eclipsing scoring records and earning three all-conference first team honors while leading the ‘Birds to three consecutive 20-win seasons and NIT appearances.
At 6-3, Eldridge’s self-described Achilles heel as a combo guard has been his ability to run the point effectively. Playing in the D-League, he thinks he’ll get that opportunity.
“I look at the situation as it’s a chance for me to come here and get better,” said Eldridge, after dropping 22 points in the Jam’s opener. “In Europe, it’s a cutthroat business and the team wants to win so I was playing a wing there where I could score like I did in college. Here, I can get a chance to play point guard and gain experience. I can develop more to get to where I want to be.”
Eldridge’s new coach, Will Voigt, is excited to tap his new star’s potential.
“Osiris is a tremendous young talent that we feel can really develop into a great player,” the Jam’s head coach said.
For the artist formerly known as Osiris the Virus on Illinois State’s campus, where he rocked his signature “O-Hawk,” evoked fans to form “O” in YMCA-form, and heard Dick Enberg scream “Ossssiirrrrussss” endlessly during his MVC Tournament MVP showing, he maturely realizes his days as a star are over.
“For the NBA teams to call you up, they’re not looking for a big scorer or some dude who had a Mohawk and was on SportsCenter Top 10, they’re looking for someone who can come in and help their team out, be a role player, a lockdown defender,” explained Eldridge.
While he has proved he can jolt a crowd with his rim-rattling dunks, triple-axel lay-ups and area-code treys, Eldridge is more content with simply getting noticed for running the pick and roll efficiently and making smart decisions as a point guard. Most importantly, though, he’s hoping to get noticed for his defense, which he honed his junior year at State when he was the Missouri Valley’s top defender.
“I can guard NBA players,” Eldridge said. “In the D-League, I want to try to guard the best player every night.”
There was only one problem with Eldridge’s game plan: Until recent, there was no NBA. With the lockout ending, Eldridge says looking back that it was an interesting mindset for a cat playing in the NBA’s minor leagues.
“It was sort of a weird feel man,” Eldridge says. “The point of coming to the D-League is to try and get called up…but the way I’m looking at it is I just need to always play as if there is an NBA (season) going on. You can’t just ball hard when people are watching. If I do my thing consistently, hopefully, I’ll get my time. This is an investment (pauses)…and I’m hoping it pays off in the end.”
Eldridge already has been jelling with his teammates, a much easier task he says when they’re all speaking the same language. And he’s proudly taking the title as the locker room prankster.
Now living in Bakersfield, Calif., Eldridge jokes the town is similar to an old western ghost town. “OK it’s not that bad,” he quips. “But it’s not Chicago.”
“That’s what I love the most is the weather… no snow,” he said. “It’s great here too because I can just focus on basketball and basketball only. I’m back on that grind, where I need to be.”
In the back of his mind, Eldridge knows that there’s a chance the NBA might not ever come calling—making his time in the D-League a serious gamble.
“All I gotta say to that is, I’m 23, in the prime of my career and there’s no way I’m not going to chase this dream,” he said. “I know Chauncey Billups real well and he has a cool story because he had a lot of doors close but then played a lot of years in the league. He told me, you don’t always get that helicopter flying you in or the elevator ride to the top. You gotta work for it every day. That’s what I’m doing.”
If he does eventually get “the call,” though, best believe he’ll be ready.
“I’m already planning how I’m gonna answer the phone. It’ll be the Raptors and I’m gonna be like ‘Welcome to Good Burger, Home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?’ It’ll prolly be too surreal for me to joke though. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a kid.
“I just hope that day comes.”